Dale “Rambro” Ramsey is one of the most respected producers and engineers in the business. His RamTrax Entertainment studio in Atlanta has worked on projects for some of the biggest names in music, from Justin Timberlake to Stevie Wonder to P. Diddy. His client list reads like a Who’s Who of musical talent, and it keeps Dale hopping.
But sometimes he has a client with a somewhat ‘higher calling.’
Early this month, Dale traveled to Columbia, SC with his V-Studio 100 to record a major religious event called “The Great Gathering.” For the first time in more than 45 years, the three major Methodist denominations within the African-American community met collectively, holding a three-day conference to discuss and address some of the major issues currently plaguing our nation.
From March 1-3, congregations from the African Methodist Episcopal (AME), African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) and Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Churches met at the Carolina Coliseum with the goal of “Focusing on solutions. Change through the heart for the earth and humanity.”
“I was working in my studio with Dr. Greg McPherson, the music director for the opening day of the conference,” Dale explained, “and he mentioned a three-day event that might take place the following week up in Columbia. He said he might be able to use my help in recording an orchestra on the first day. I didn’t have a lot of details and it wasn’t set in stone at that point, but I said I’d help if he needed me.”
Dale got confirmation that he’d be needed three days before the event. “Three days to ‘advance’ an event is generally not long enough in most cases,” he explained.
So how did he deal with this “audio firedrill?”
“I really had to scramble to assess what I’d need, both in terms of equipment, manpower and general logistics. Based on what few details I knew of the gig, I brought along my V Studio-100, a 16-channel console and headphones. That’s it.”
The day of the event, Dale picked up his two-man crew in his Expedition at 5:00 am and set out from Atlanta. It’s about a three to four hour drive to Columbia, and he had to be there for an 8:00 am load-in time. By the time they got there, the stage was in place, and the riggers were setting up the lights and video screens.
“[But] The Front of House soundboard was not yet set up, so we went to the hotel to get our recording gear ready. We went to lunch after settling in at the hotel, and then went to find the local Walmart to get batteries and an SD card to use with VS-100.” (Dale noted that the industry has come a long way when all you now need to handle an impromptu recording gig in a strange town is a Walmart or a local general store, some batteries and a standard recording card. “For a long while, you needed to go to a tape complex or tape warehouse for tape supplies, and you better have ordered them way in advance to make sure they had it on hand.”) Once supplies were in hand, Dale and his crew headed back to the conference center….where they would face one challenge after another.
“Our task was to record an orchestra of about 40 musicians and a 300-voice choir that was set up not on stage but up in the ‘nose bleed’ section above the stage,” he said. “When I first was told this was what the job entailed, I looked around and wondered ‘How am I going to record that?!?’”
This would prove to be the least of Dale’s worries.
Rehearsals were scheduled to take place around 1:30 pm. They didn’t happen. Sound check was set for 5 pm. That didn’t happen either. The sound company was short-handed and the venue had no extra stage hands to provide, so with the 8:00 pm start time fast approaching, Dale even pitched in to help set up mics, run cables, assist with the musicians, you name it.
“The audience had already started to arrive by the time we got the last mics set up. I looked up and the coliseum was just about full. Then the program started and I was still down front with the orchestra!”
Once he was able to focus on the business of recording, the VS-100 proved the only reliable part of his day.
“We took the mix from my StudioLive console mix that was being fed from the FOH console (a Digital Yamaha 48-64 input channel console), and at the very last minute made a makeshift split of the signal out to my VS-100 for a stereo capture of the entire performance. It worked perfectly.”
Dale is also adding some additional string overdubs to his recording, and the final product will be released on CD or DVD.
“When Dr. Greg asked me to do this recording, I jumped at the chance to use the VS-100 on the stereo portion of the recording,” Dale noted. “The VS-100 is an ideal box that has multiple uses, not only as a computer interface that works with every major DAW, but the recording function is great too. Set it up, get your levels, push record and you are off and running. I love this little box!”
In June, Dale will be recording a similar event, and he says the VS-100 will “definitely” be part of his recording gear.
For Dale’s sake, hopefully it goes a bit more smoothly. But with the VS-100 on hand, he knows at least that part of the event will go well.